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By Karen Herland
For the first time in institutional memory, the university’s provost invited all members of the Concordia community to an open meeting on our academic position and direction.
Provost and Vice-President Academic David Graham framed his remarks by reference to Concordia’s ambitious plan to establish itself as one of Canada’s top five comprehensive universities in the next decade.
On March 29, Graham addressed an audience including Concordia faculty members, deans, administrators and staff. Those attending came from the four Faculties, the Office of Research, the Centre for Teaching and Learning, the President’s Office, Advancement and Alumni Relations, the Libraries, the full and part-time faculty associations and faculty and staff members both recently hired and long established.
He started the meeting by reassuring those who attended (and the many more who were watching the presentation virtually via webcast) that the impetus for the event was not the imminent delivery of bad news but a suggestion made by professor Arpi Hamalian during his public presentation as candidate for his current position.
The provost presented the university’s position in broad strokes. He outlined some of the university’s important achievements since he became provost on March 1, 2008. He focused on the importance of recruiting and retaining top new faculty and students, especially graduate students, and the various measures in place to meet that challenge. Along the way he thanked numerous colleagues in his own office and across the university who have supported these measures.
Among other initiatives, Graham mentioned was the coordination of enrolment planning, an evaluation of how teaching is assessed and the identification of core academic skills. He congratulated the School of Extended Learning for the development of courses intended to improve study skills for undergraduate students and to prepare students for graduate school.
Graham acknowledged that although the university’s small class experience, community outreach and remarkable programs all remain intrinsic parts of Concordia’s essence, external reputation is often based on recognition of research.
Improving our research profile and capacity requires top-notch faculty and top-notch graduate students. “Bringing in good graduate students is not just a high priority, it’s our top priority,” he said.
Toward that end, he spoke of the $1 million that had been reallocated from other budgetary priorities to attract graduate students across all four Faculties. During question period, he spoke of some other, more difficult decisions that might be taken down the line, and in consultation with all sectors of the university, to improve options for graduate recruitment.
Among them might be focusing on graduate recruitment over tenure-track hiring, in the short to medium term.
However, he was also mindful of the importance of faculty researchers in attracting graduate students. “Sixty per cent of our professors have been hired in the last ten years,” he said. “That infusion of new blood has done wonders for us. That’s what brought me here.” Graham also mentioned the successful adoption of new collective agreements for both full- and part-time faculty, including a focus on improving starting salaries for full-time faculty to keep us in line with other universities. During question period, he underscored a commitment to make faculty salaries as competitive as possible in times of budgetary uncertainty.
Graham said enrolment growth remained steady, and our programs continue to be a draw for students locally and from elsewhere. He added that increased enrolment might bring challenges, but was still preferable to those linked to enrolment shrinkage. However, with provincial funding often tied to complicated and changing formulas, the university’s administration continued to lobby for better funding from all levels of government. He concluded by saying he looks forward to the next open meeting a year from now.